KASB Statement on 2014 Legislative Session
The 2014 Legislative Session brought more authority, responsibility and accountability to local school boards in the operation of Kansas public schools. For the first time in decades, authority is moving toward local boards, rather than away from them. School board members will have more ability to “maintain, develop and operate” local public schools as provided by the Kansas Constitution. Boards will have more responsibility for management decisions and be held to higher standards of accountability.
The most significant development during the session was the Kansas Supreme Court's Gannon school finance decision in March 2014. For the first time, the court specifically defined the standards for determining the level of suitable funding for public schools in Kansas. The measure is defined as a set of seven “capacities” based on what students must have to be successful as citizens, in postsecondary education and for their career. In response, the Legislature adopted those capacities as the state’s goals for each child.
The Supreme Court also ruled that Kansas was failing to provide constitutionally equitable funding, and the Legislature responded by fully funding local option budget and capital outlay state aid for the first time in five years. In addition, the Legislature provided a $14 increase in base state aid per pupil and increased the amount of funding that can be raised through local option budgets. However, the Legislature also reduced funding for at-risk and virtual programs. Overall, school districts budgets are expected to grow less than the rate of inflation.
The school finance bill includes several controversial policy changes, including the repeal of the decades-long system of teacher due process that provided for a state hearing officer if a “tenured” teacher was removed. It also creates options for local boards to hire individuals without traditional teacher education degrees in certain areas, expands a new program that allows districts to apply for “innovative” status that exempts them from many state school laws and regulations in exchange for higher student achievement standards.
These changes are controversial and may face possible - in fact, probable - legal challenges.
At the end of the session, a sharp drop in state revenue cast doubt on the state’s ability to maintain the current level of funding, let alone continue to support changes necessary to meet new expectations and standards. Also approved was a corporate tax credit for scholarships to private schools, which could further divert funding from public schools.
More than ever, local boards must be engaged with their community, to provide leadership, reflect local needs and uphold community values. Kansas school boards welcome this challenge.